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September 2017

Rating System

5 stars: Completely enjoyable or compelling
4 stars: Good but flawed
3 stars: Average
2 stars: OK
1 star: Did not finish

Reading Challenges

My Kind of Mystery Reading Challenge 2017 February - January 2017-8



The Goldfish Boy: 09/30/17

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson is a middle grade mystery similar to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003) by Mark Haddon. Matthew Corbin, who has been living in his room, afraid of the germs around him, is the best eye witness the the disappearance of a toddler. With the help of two other kids on the block he begins the task of finding him.

The book's blurb describes Matthew as suffering "from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder." And while he shows the symptoms of OCD it should be noted that he hasn't been diagnosed. He does have a therapist but this mystery is taking place in the early days of his treatment and there's no formal diagnosis. This is important because the story is as much about Matthew and his family trying to understand and cope with his situation as it is a missing child story.

The title comes from a mocking nickname the next door sister gives him, as she sees him watching the street from his window every day. She and her brother are staying at their grandfather's house while their mother is in the United States on business. He is ill prepared for watching two young children and is more interested in caring for his garden than his grandchildren.

Matthew works with the girl across the street who likes to wander into the cemetery at the end of the lane, and a former best friend who has turned bully in the last few years. Rather than making their collaboration a forced one by adults or circumstance, this one is more organic. For whatever their individual motivations, all three want to find the missing toddler. They each have skills and knowledge that can solve the mystery.

Over the course of the summer while Matthew is trying to find the boy, trying to survive his compulsions to clean and his fears of certain times of the day, we're given insights into what led to his self induced isolation.

Five stars

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Crossing the Cornfield and Saving the World: The Neddiad: 09/29/17

Crossing the Cornfield and Saving the World: The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater

Sometimes I find it necessary to revisit a review, especially when experiencing the book in a different medium or under vastly different circumstances. Originally I read The Neddiad by Daniel Pinkwater in hardcover from my local library. This time, I experienced as an audiobook as read by the author while on a roadtrip to Wyoming.

The Neddiad is the first of the Ned and Friends series and is more or less a middle grade homage to the Iliad. Although ten years have passed on the battle field outside Troy, Homer cuts to the chase and just shows both sides coming apart at the seams and the messy resolution involving some high profile deaths. Pinkwater's book, though, has the battle be a long turn, recurring event — on the order of centuries, not years.

While Pinkwater's book culminates in an epic battle involving a Lovecraftian monster, the La Brea tarpits, the World Turtle, and one very confused and young hero — there's this weirdly wonderful deconstruction of an American road narrative and it's that aspect I'd like to focus on first.

Ned Wentworthstein begins in a neighborhood back east. He hears about the Brown Derby restaurant and tells his dad he wants to eat there someday. His dad who tends to be impulsive, uses that request as the excuse he's been looking for to move the entire family to Los Angeles. As this will be a one way trip, the Neddiad establishes itself as an "On the Road" story.

As Ned's father is the "Shoelace King" and can afford to rent a family suite on the Southwest Chief as they go from Chicago to Los Angeles, this book is also in the "traveling while male and white" category. It's set up as being a tale of luxury travel, cut off from the elements, completely safe, and completely guaranteed to go as planned.

That is until New Mexico and Ned and his family are allowed to detrain while the train takes on water and provisions. Ned is lured off road (in this case, the rail road) and finds himself in a Native American market where he can learn about the different cultures in the area, buy goods, and see them at work. It's there that he meets Melvin (of the many names) and receives the Turtle.

If you got to Four Corners, one symbol you'll see over and over again is the Turtle — which is said to carry North America on its back. My son and daughter both own versions of this turtle — neither of them though magical in the way that Ned's is.

Two things happen here to Ned's pre-scripted journey. The first is that he moves into a "crossing the cornfield" situation and second, he changes transportation from an always "on the road" vehicle to one that can go off road if needed — ie, an automobile. In fact, over the remaining part of Ned's journey to Los Angeles, he'll get more and more off road to the point of even flying in an airplane over the Grand Canyon.

Let's look though at the crossing the cornfield piece of Ned's journey to Los Angeles. Though the initial push is with detraining in New Mexico, it's not until Arizona that Ned completely loses sight of his guaranteed ride into Los Angeles. When the train stops to let on passengers, Ned somehow thinks it's going to be another long stop like New Mexico. He detrains, wanders into Flagstaff, and the train leaves with out him.

Flagstaff isn't exactly known for it's cornfields so how does this city put him on that path? Just as in Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, the cornfield can be an entrance to the Underworld. For Ned — his first foray into the Underworld comes from being put up in the haunted room of the hotel near the train station. Rather than this being a traumatic experience — Ned ends up befriending the ghost and inviting him along on his journey to Los Angeles.

The bellhop ghost though is just one of many ghosts and many entrances to the Underworld. The biggest Underworld component is the La Brea tarpits. It's a place full old bones and one of two portals Ned uses while saving the world.

Every character in the Neddiad has an important role but I want to just look at one: Melvin the Shaman. From the moment Ned and he meet in New Mexico, Melvin ends up being there whenever Ned looks like he's going to fall off the unmarked path.

Ned's itinerary color coded for road narrative tropes.

In the crossing the cornfield genre — Melvin is a reluctant scarecrow, more so than he is a minotaur. Melvin, though clearly powerful enough to be omnipresent and omniscient, repeatedly states that he can't fight the battle for Ned, nor can he know exactly when Ned will need to fight said battle (or even if Ned will ultimately be the one to fight it).

Melvin, while in the colloquial means an average (Jewish) guy, the name itself means "gentle lord." Ned assumes that Melvin is a shaman because he gives advice, seems to know more than he should, and was in possession of a magical turtle. I think, though, that Melvin is more than that — an Old One — if you will. Melvin goes with the turtle throughout the ages. He's not any particular type of god or spirit, but with the turtle having come to rest in Santa Fe, has taken on the persona of the people there, though not particularly well (as the bellhop ghost points out on several occasions).

Ned's journey from urban rich kid to hero is a winding path full of detours and peril.

Finally, as this was the audiobook, read by the author, I should note that Pinkwater, who has radio experience as an NPR commentator, did an excellent job. I wish the remaining books in this series were also done as audiobooks. Pinkwater has a rather dry, matter of fact way of narrating his book which plays ironically against the weirdness of the story. Ned, like Pinkwater, does for the most part, present what happens as if it were the most normal thing ever — even when meeting ghosts, or fighting mythological creatures, or swimming with world turtles. Pinkwater's approach to narrating the book reminds me fondly of The Wayside School Collection, narrated by author Louis Sachar.

Five stars

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Archie vs Predator: 09/28/17

Archie vs Predator by Alex de Campi

Sometimes reading is a purely nostalgic thing. Usually around the holidays as the year is winding down I get in the mood for familiar stuff: either a new book with favorite characters, or re-reading an old favorite.

I especially look for easy reads for Thanksgiving. We typically travel to spend the holiday with Ian's parents. In the past there would be a football game on. More recently some sort of marathon — the Twilight Zone or something else. I'm sort of expected to be present but I like to turn off the marathons with books or my computer (if it's charged up and if the internet connection is good).

Two years ago I saw some sample panels from Archie vs Predator by Alex de Campi, a standalone four issue comic involving Predator taking out Riverdale, and I knew it would be my Thanksgiving read. I've been an on again, off again fan of Archie comics since I was a kid. They're on the saccharine side and Predator isn't. It was just so ridiculous a concept that I had to read it. Then plans changed. For work reasons we ended up staying home for Thanksgiving and I put away the book.

The Riverdale gang wins a trip to a remote island. It happens to be the same one that Preditor is on. It sees them and gets infatuated with Betty and Veronica and follows them home to Riverdale. How better to express your feelings than killing off an entire town?

Predators thoughts, if they can be considered such, are rendered as emojis. Combined that with the visceral way he slaughters most of the main characters, it's a jarring juxtaposition.

The whole thing can be read with a television blaring in about thirty minutes. It's goofy, bloody, violent, and has the weirdest ending. If you think Predator is the horror element of this tale, you're wrong. He just lays it bare through his destruction.

Four stars

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Proven Guilty: 09/27/17

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher

Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher is the eighth book in the Dresden Files. Harry is now reluctantly now the Warden of the White Council. He has to do the council's dirty work.

The non-council part of the story opens with Harry having to bail out Molly and her friend. Their arrest leads to trouble at a local comic convention. Dresden is at the convention when a horrific murder happens — one that he can't explain.

I know this particular volume is especially popular. Everyone I know who has read the series tells me this is where the series gets good and hits it's stride. Not for me. I think I need to take a break from the series.

Why didn't I like it? First there's the White Council. It's ridiculous, stuffy pageantry. I've never liked the magic system in series. Next there's the convention. These types of stories never work because they always focus on the sorts of "weirdos" who attend them without trying to get into their heads. Finally there's the obviousness of the plot — or maybe that's just me having seen it done a number of times in Supernatural (a show that actually does a good job of fictional representation of its fanbase).

Two stars

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I'm Thinking of Ending Things: 09/26/17

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid is a strange horror road narrative. For it's length, it's really more of a novella, than a novel, but the mental journey it takes the reader on, makes up for its lack of pages or points of interest.

If you don't want spoilers, stop now. The short version is I thoroughly enjoyed this psychological horror set as a road narrative. If you're curious to learn more and don't mind spoilers (or have already read the book), continue.

It's a type of story I feel like I've read before. It's the type of story that is familiar enough to sit at the outer reaches of memory. I swear I've read this story before — and I'm going to guess it's a false memory cobbled together from details of Elizabeth Hand's novels and short stories I've read.

The book opens at an emotional crossroads. The narrator, a woman, is on a road trip of undisclosed length, to meet her boyfriend's parents. They're planning to have dinner but she is regretting the decision to agree to go because she's "thinking of ending things." Though it's written in a context to imply she wants to break up with him, it also brings to mind suicide.

If the sentiment is one of self destruction, then one can see this road narrative as another version of the crossing the cornfield / specifically the crossing into the underworld. It's a journey along a road not taken (or at least rarely taken) to an old farm well past it's prime (as evidenced by the frozen lambs and the gruesome story of the pigs who had to be put down because they were being eaten alive by flies and maggots).

The girl friend, though, is an unreliable narrator — her mind constantly wandering away from her current situation. She is fixated on a person she has named "The Caller." She says the first time she saw him was as a child when she woke up to see him watching her sleep from outside her bedroom window. More recently he has begun to call her cell phone, leaving messages that to her make no sense, but sound like an existential crisis or a suicide note.

The narrator doesn't record much in the way of the drive. They've already started the drive when she starts her story. Where they started from is unstated — except for it being implied that it is a city. Where they are headed is unstated except for it being Jake's parents' home for dinner. The time of day isn't stated except that it's night. Besides the farm house, the only other places mentioned are a DairyQueen and a high school.

As the road isn't really the point to this road narrative (in the same way that the Winchesters travel often by night with only the flashing of lights along Baby's windows), the journey instead must be mapped by the characters and their relationship to the road narratives.

Mapping character types against road narrative tropes

Taking the character types and their relationship to the road narrative genres, one can extrapolate a route. From the reoccurrence of the couple (both in the form of the narrator and Jake, and Jake's parents) and the inclusion of the brief asides between chapters, we are given a circular route. It is fundamentally a "there and back again" story, but it's not a return trip. Instead, it's a circular path — especially for Jake.

Using character types and narrative tropes to map the unwritten itinerary of Jake's trip.

Though Jake believes until nearly the end, that he is traveling with his girl friend, he is from the very beginning, traveling alone. He is, per Kate Milford (Greenglass House) an orphan and a wielder of orphan magic. It's magic that can either help the traveler cleave together or it can cleave apart the hero and the world around him. In this case, without the narrator, it's the latter. Jake's existence is dependent on her existence. Without her, he cannot be.

Five stars

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Mystery of the Midnight Rider: 09/25/17

Mystery of the Midnight Rider by Carolyn Keene

Mystery of the Midnight Rider by Carolyn Keene is the third of the Nancy Drew Diaries — that I somehow missed when I started reading the series from the beginning. Since the book has a song title, I'm going to start there as it was the song running through my head for the entirety of the book.

Nancy and her friends are at River Heights Horse Show to watch Ned's friend, Payton, compete with her jumper, Midnight. Unfortunately, she and her horse seem cursed with bad luck. Her horse has tested positive for illegal substances, she's gotten threatening notes, and her saddle has been destroyed.

The big question then is who is doing this and why? Who wants to stop Payton from competing? Is it her surly trainer, Dana? Is it her competition? Is it an obsessed fan?

The mystery here isn't as complex as the other books in the series I've read so far. I figured out who was behind the threats about midway through the book. I kept reading because the details of how these competitions work are explained well. I frankly didn't know much about equestrian competitions so I found the added information fascinating.

Three stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 25): 09/25/17

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 31)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Saturday we headed out to Dell'Osso Farms to set up our Girl Scout Troop scarecrow. This year's theme is "where in the world." We chose to do Moana. A couple spots down, a Boy Scout Troop did Maui. We probably won't win but the scarecrow is a great team building exercise for us. We run a multilevel troop and have girls ranging in ages from five to fourteen.

Setting up Moana

What I read:

Wrongside of the Paw
Wrong Side of the Paw by Laurie Cass; personal collection (ebook)
Hear the Wolves
Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott; library book
All Our Wrong Todays
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai; library book
A Perfect Day
A Perfect Day by Lane Smitth ; library book
Juana and Lucas
Juana and Lucas by Juana Medina ; library book
 

What I'm reading:

Finding Audrey
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella; personal collection
Bad Housekeeping
Bad Housekeeping by Maia Chance ; personal collection
Lumberjanes, Volume 3: A Terrible Plan
Lumberjanes, Volume 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson; personal collection

Up Next:

Saints and Misfits
Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali; library book
Flying Troutmans
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews; personal collection (audio)
The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine; library book

Posts:

Reviews Posted

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Woof: 09/24/17

Woof by Spencer Quinn

I've been reading a ton of books about dogs or from the point of view of dogs. Woof by Spencer Quinn is a middle grade mystery told from the point of view of a bloodhound fallen on hard times. At the start of the book, Bowser, is adopted by a girl and her grandmother and is immediately thrust into a mystery of a missing stuffed fish and the possibility of a treasure map.

The book is set along the bayou. Birdie, that's Bowser's adopter, lives with her grandmother because her mother works on an oil rig. I believe it's the second or third book I've read recently with a parent who works off shore.

The heart of the mystery is the missing stuffed marlin. The grandmother swears the marlin is of sentimental value only. Birdie, and by extension, Bowser, expect more. Evidence seems to suggest there's more to the missing fish as well.

Bowser makes for an affable narrator. Birdie is headstrong and smart. They make a good team and it's a decent start to a new series. The second book is Arf and I will be reading it as soon as I move and get my books out of storage.

Three stars

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Giant Trouble: 09/23/17

Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon

Giant Trouble by Ursula Vernon is the fourth of the Harriet Hamsterbone series. Harriet is on her way home from cliff diving when she's approached by someone wanting to sell her a bag of beans. Harriet wisely wants no part of this but Mumphrey gets into the bag and eats a bean. By the next morning, Harriet and her quail have a giant beanstalk to contend with.

In every other version of Jack and the Beanstalk, the beanstalk goes up to a castle inhabited by a giant with a taste for blood and bones and a love of gold and magical items. The why behind the castle being there at the top of the clouds is just a given except in this book. Here, the giant's cloud floats around as clouds do and it has gotten snagged on the beanstalk (another reason that Harriet has for needing to cut it down)

Inside the castle we have a fairly standard take on the Jack and the Beanstalk, with the giant being played by a large, dirty rabbit who insists of making everything fit into the standard fe fi fo fum rhyme.

To put it bluntly, Harriet is off her game here for most of her encounter with the giant. She tries to rescue Mumphrey. She tries to free the Harpster. For all her effort she ends up bruised, battered, and nearly falling to her death more times than I care to count.

Of course it's important over the course of a series to see the hero at times of vulnerability. If the hero always wins there's no drama and no character growth. And yet it was rough seeing Harriet have so much trouble.

On the other hand, this book does give Wilbur a chance to step up from his comfortable role as a paperboy to being a hero. Giant Trouble is like those rare Kim Possible episodes where Ron Stoppable ends up saving the day.

There's a fifth book coming in January 2018, Whiskerella.

Four stars

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It Might Have Been Worse: 09/22/17

It Might Have Been Worse by Beatrice Larned Massey

The Lincoln Highway opened for business in 1915. In 1918 Effie Price Gladding and her husband made the drive home to Ohio from California by way of it. She reported their trip (and their side tour through California) in Across the Continent by The Lincoln Highway. Shortly after, Emily Post of etiquette fame, made the drive both famous and fashionable.

It Might Have Been Worse by Beatrice Larned Massey made the trip with her husband and a companion couple she dubbed the Doctor and Toodles. She cites making the trip based on Post's memoir as her inspiration.

Emily Post's road trip book was highly influential in Gladding's own trip and writing. In Gladding's book the emphasis was on the places visited and the difficulties of the road, of keeping the car in good working order, of getting lost, and so forth. Massey's book is more concerned with the difficulties of being fashionable under the conditions of a dusty road trip with a convertible.

Massey doesn't keep the comments to herself. She has numerous criticisms of the people she meets on the road, fellow travelers, and locals alike. Very few people are fashionable enough for her or Emily Post's tastes. On the other hand, some take the fashionable road trip to extravagant extremes, bringing too many fine things, making the whole fashionable bit look too obvious and gauche.

Finally there is Massey's own racism. At one point on the trip the Lincoln Highway was diverted to a muddy, rutted, slippery mess. In the middle of this, she saw a pair of Black men sitting along side the road next to their over turned truck, their life's possessions scattered across the mud. Massey rather than being sympathetic is dismissive. She calls them lazy and nearly accuses them of wrecking their van just to make her late.

Three stars

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Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy: 09/21/17

Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson

My recent involvement in Girl Scouts both as a parent and as co-leader has made me aware of how scouting is portrayed in children's fiction, especially those stories that involve girls as scouts. These fictional girls are rarely actual Girl Scouts — one exception being Zomorod "Cindy" Yousefzadeh in It Ain't So Awful, Falafel.

Most of the time the girl or girls who are scouting are members of some other type of troop — a fictional organization — that comprises either what the author remembers about scouting or what the author has heard or worse imagined about scouting for girls. Examples include: the Fireside Girls in Phineas and Ferb, the Pine Scouts, Flower Scouts, and Star Scouts in Star Scouts, and now the Lumberjanes series by Noelle Stevenson which comes closest to being Girl Scouts but without being Girl Scouts. Clearly though it's built on some nostalgic memories of the wackier aspects of being a scout.

This first volume begins with a warning — "Beware the Kitten Holy" which the girls will experience first hand after a very strange outing after their canoeing experience goes well beyond awry. Imagine if you will, a strong, wacky group of girls at summer camp where there is something supernatural afoot. These aren't girls who need rescuing — these are capable heroes who do the rescuing, even as their assigned camp counselor is having fits over their misadventures. There are waterfalls, mysterious lighthouses, magical creatures, a cave to explore, riddles to solve, an arm wrestling contest — and each and every girl has something to contribute. Who is best at what isn't made obvious by cliches or tropes. The girls know each other's strengths and weaknesses and they support each other.

Leverage

The arm wrestling scene brought back fond memories of when I was the champ of our sixth grade class.

The second album is Friendship to the Max.

Five stars

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Bookplate Special: 09/20/17

Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett

Bookplate Special by Lorna Barrett is the third of the Booktown Mystery series. Tricia has found that her uninvited guest, Pammy, has stolen some money from her. So she's asked her to leave — only for her to end up dead across the street in Angela's new restaurant.

Meanwhile, a new food pantry is opened — further evidence of how hard things are for many people in Stoneham. The other side of food poverty is Freeganism. Since apparently Pammy was seen hanging out with the Freegans, Tricia spends most of the rest of the book learning about Freeganism, dumpster diving, being horrified at eating tossed out food, and basically being utterly clueless at how how much her faithful employee Jinny is struggling to make ends meet.

The secondary plot involves threatening phone calls, blackmail, and a missing diary. Here is the heart of the mystery but it's pushed into the background for Tricia to be repeatedly slapped in the face with her own privilege. But it probably won't stick between books.

My one complaint with this book is that Jinny seemed out of character. Yes, she is emotional but usually the over the top outbursts belong to Franny. Yes, she's struggling. But I don't see her hanging out with the Freegans. In Bookmarked for Death, Jinny makes a big deal about not wanting charity and not wanting others to know that she needs it. I therefore, don't see her joining a group to so publicly (even if it's at night) "Dumpster dive."

Four stars

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The maze isn't for you — except when it is: 09/19/17

The maze isn't for you — except when it isn by Linda Bailey

The title comes from what the girl in pueblo tells the Man in Black when he demands instructions to the center of the game in Westworld (season 1, episode 2, "Chestnut"). The second half of the title is my commentary on the idea of the labyrinth — usually the one of the Minotaur story being co-opted for a meta-fiction road narrative. In stories where one is unable to travel because of remoteness or where travelers arrive in remote or uncharted villages, the labyrinth — and the one who can navigate it — is used as a motif to show the process of either escape or invasion.

When I restarted the road narrative project, I began at what I thought was the beginning — with the invention of the automobile. With the automobile comes the road trip. I collected as many early memoirs of crossing the North American continent and took copious notes. I read through as many early accounts of road design and the bureaucracies behind them.

As I read and as questions popped into my head, I started jotting them down in OmniGraffle, drawing lines connecting things like pins and strings and papers in a conspiracy theorist's den. Out of that mess arose something resembling a spiderweb or a multi-dimensional labyrinth. I wish I could say it was the shape there that made me see where my research needed to go. But it didn't.

In April 2016, after reading The Bone Gap, I wrote "The Road Not Taken" article, my first proto-crossing-the-cornfield essay. I was still looking at road narratives — all road narratives — as being written in and unfolding in a geographic space. The real-world place would affect the narrative flow in predictable ways. To know the place was to know the narrative. It was a blind and epistemologically driven thesis that didn't take into account meta fiction or utopic or uhoral places.

Then came Lowriders to the Center of the Earth which got me to thinking about road narratives and the road not taken in an entire different perspective. Since then I have been focusing more and more on the road not taken / crossing the cornfield types or road narrative. I have also been able to identify archetypal characters and map their types of journeys against a spectrum of subgenres.

What I've found is, there is unmapped land in these, oft-times, horror genres of the road narrative. Despite the lack of research (though I am still looking), authors have been using similar tropes and motifs to tell their stories that it's possible to do narrative deconstructions based on the characters, tropes, and motifs used — even in the shortest forms of fiction, such as the children's picture book.

While I do still have early research notes to transcribe, moving forward, I plan to focus on these crossing the cornfield stories. They come in two forms: incarcerated in, and escaping from, the cornfield. Essentially: is the cornfield, an impenetrable fortress (such as in Black Hammer and "It's a Good Life") or can it be crossed and escaped from (as in The Magic Cornfield and Bone Gap)?

Below is a time line by articles i've written about the research process and progress.

February 2016:
The Road (Narrative Project) So Far

April 2016:
The Road Not Taken

January 2017:
Crossing the Cornfield

February 2017:
Seven Narrative Ways to Travel

May 2017: Mapping the Roads of the American Nightmare

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Carson Crosses Canada: 09/19/17

Carson Crosses Canadan by Linda Bailey

Carson Crosses Canada by Linda Bailey is a picture book about Canada's provinces, presented as a west to east road trip. It starts in Tofino, BC and ends in Witless Bay, Newfoundland. The drive, like that in Cadillac Couches uses the Trans Canada Highway.

Carson is the dog on the cover. He's heading east because his owner's sister is sick and needs help. Each spread shows a different stopping place. The endpapers include a map and itinerary.

But the middle — the actual text that goes with the illustrations is rather sparse. Tofino to Witless Bay on the Trans-Canadian route is 94 hours of travel, covering 8,265 km. It also involves at least one ferry ride to get off Vancouver Island, to mainland British Columbia. None of that, though, is covered in the book and is only hinted at in the endpaper maps.

A cross continental road trip with a single drive isn't easy. With multiple drivers, it still isn't easy. It's hard work. Sure, it can also be fun — but it's still hard work. Making the same crossing with pets is even more work and more stress.

I'm surprised too that the ferry crossing isn't mentioned — or even the difference that P.E.I can be reached by a bridge, but Vancouver can't.

Four stars

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Greenglass House by Kate Milford: A road narrative deconstructionn: 09/18/17

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: A road narrative deconstructionn by Kate Milford

Greenglass House by Kate Milford is another book I've recently re-read through the medium of the audiobook. The book was narrated by Chris Henry Coffey, who per a Twitter exchange, is on board to do the sequel, Ghosts of Greenglass House.

My re-read of the Milford's novel came during a roadtrip, primarily the day we drove through Wyoming, first to visit Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, and then to Caspar to experience the total eclipse. It was an experience where I had to stay silent and enjoy the story as it unfolded while my family held heated discussions as to the nature of the story.

When I first read Greenglass House I was in the early days of restarting my road narrative project. While Milford's poetic layering of language and story piqued my interest enough to record some favorite passages on Tumblr, I wasn't established enough in my research yet to recognize the novel as an exemplar of the type of road narrative I am most interested in.

After having read more of Kate Milford's novels, I can see now that she specializes in crossroads narratives. Her stories are set at the intersections where strangers off the road intersect and interact with the people who maintain these roads and hotels or can't or won't leave the town.

The Greenglass House is an inn that specializes in a special kind of traveler — the smuggler. It sits on the top of a hill — at the edge of a forest, near a cliff overlooking the river. It has a stairway and a train to provide access. It's also served by a ferry. It sits above an abandoned subway line. It is basically the bulls eye of so many different crossroads, it's bound to invite trouble.

As I was the primary driver as we were listening to the audiobook, I wasn't able to write down passages. My hardcover copy is in storage but after we purchase a new-to-us home and the books come out of storage, I will be re-reading this book for a third time looking for certain details and scenes.

One central theme to this book are towns and homes that can't be mapped. They defy quantification. These places either let you go where you want or need to go, or they don't. There are times when Greenglass House has a similar but less menacing feel as the House of Leaves.

At the other extreme of this book is wayfaring. After the unexpected, unplanned guests begin arriving at the inn, Milo finds a map drawn on green paper that clearly belongs to the house. The map has what appears to be a compass rose. For anyone paying attention to the layout of the inn, it too is numbered along a compass rose with rooms like 3N, 3E, 3W, 3S — essentially giving the coordinates needed to find any location in the house — the floor number and which corner of the house it's in.

Milford notes in her afterword that she was inspired to write Greenglass House by two prompts: one about stain glass — thus the makeup of the house and its way of telling its stories — and her family's desire to adopt a child from China.

The adoption story — which is Milo Pine's backstory — is also the inspiration for one of this books most fascinating concepts: orphan magic. It works through cleaving. That which has been torn away gains its strength from being separate — but it can also bring strength to whatever it is joined with. Milo brings power to the Inn because he's an adopted orphan or doubly cleaved.

Types of travelers color coded by their typical road narrative route. Includes: orphan, siblings, privileged, romantic couple or family, scarecrows and minotaurs, and women / POC

Looking at Milo as an exemplar, I may need to revise my road narrative genre wheel. Or maybe I need to separate out the ways of travel from the types of travelers. The orphan, like Milo, is one who can accomplish things on the road that others cannot. Milo is in good company with heroes like Dorothy Gale, September, Arthur Trubshaw, Finn, to name just a few.

Five stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 18): 09/18/17

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 31)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

September is turning out to be a busy month. My son has been to three cross country races. His school team is probably the smallest in the league but they're a tight knit group. He's having fun.

Girl Scouts is in full swing and I'm back as a co-troop leader. I had originally planned on sitting this year out but there was a genuine need for volunteers in our troop. Plus my daughter is training to be coming a jr camp counselor next summer. To do that she needs direct experience working with brownies with a troop leader's permission. Since last year's brownie leader couldn't do it this year, it just made sense to volunteer for the spot.

We're about two weeks from closing on a new to us house. The house itself is fifty-three years old but was kept in good repair. There are stil a few things that will need work but nothing along the lines of what we were expecting given our budget and the local market.

What I read:

Wangs vs the World
The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang; personal collection (audio and print)
The Dragon Princess
The Dragon Princess by E.D. Baker; personal collection (audio)
Carrying Albert Home
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickman; library book
The Book of Mistakes
The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken; library book
The Fog
The Fog by Kyo Maclear and Kenard Pak (illustrations); library book
The Fog
Ivy by Katherine Coville; library book
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance
One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes; library book
   

What I'm reading:

Wrongside of the Paw
Wrong Side of the Paw by Laurie Cass; personal collection (ebook)
Finding Audrey
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella; personal collection
Hear the Wolves
Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott; library book

Up Next:

All Our Wrong Todays
All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai; library book
Bad Housekeeping
Bad Housekeeping by Maia Chance ; personal collection
Lumberjanes, Volume 3: A Terrible Plan
Lumberjanes, Volume 3: A Terrible Plan by Noelle Stevenson; personal collection

Reviews Posted

Comments  (28)


There Are No Cats in this Bookn: 09/17/17

There Are No Cats in this Bookn by Viviane Schwarz

There Are No Cats in this Book by Viviane Schwarz is a follow up to There Are Cats in this Book. The cats are back but not for long.

The cats don't want to be in this book. They have other plans. They have a vacation planned. But they are running late and don't have time for anyone to be reading the book.

It's a cute book but it didn't strike me as much as the original. The book characters going on vacation from their book has been done before. Perhaps I've read to many to be amazed by it any more.

Four stars

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Song of the Lion: 09/16/17

Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman

Song of the Lion by Anne Hillerman is the twenty-first of the Navajo Mystery series. I know now the publisher has renamed the series "Leaphorn and Chee" but it's not a good name for the series given the strong roll Bernadette Manuelito plays in them. Really if the series were named for characters, it should be Chee and Manuelito.

This volume opens with Bernadette at a basketball game. She's off duty but she's the first to respond to a loud noise that causes the car alarms in the parking lot to go off. A car bomb has gone off.

Since the car belongs to a high profile negotiator, here to work out a land deal to expand a resort that serves the Grand Canyon. Tempers were already hot before the bombing. Now it looks like the negotiator needs a bodyguard. Jim Chee is called in for the job.

It's a trio effort with Bernadette investigating the bombing, Chee providing protection and looking for potential motives among the delegates, and Leaphorn looking through older cases to see the bigger picture. It takes all three of them to tie it all together. If you're an observant reader, you'll solve it before they do and it won't matter because it's still a well written book with well crafted characters.

Having read all but one of Tony Hillerman's books (I somehow missed reading The Fallen Man and all of Anne Hillerman's additions to the series, I can say with certainty that she is better at bringing the characters to life. Perhaps it's that she grew up around her father's work and the people who consulted on later books in the series but Anne Hillerman seems to have a better grasp at how as Diné, Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito would live their lives and approach the work of solving these crimes.

Jim Chee, introduced in the fourth book, People of Darkness (1980) for two reasons. The first was to be a character that Hillerman owned the rights to (as the first book had been optioned for a film). The second was to atone for how un-Navajo Joe Leaphorn was as described in the first three books. Jim Chee, though younger, was more traditional, and was training to be a hataalii at the time.

Because of Chee's studies and his traditional beliefs, the middle third of the series focused on traditional ceremonies and stories. It was why Talking God was used as a text book in an art class I took in college. But in retrospect, Chee's devotion is overdone in that it is done to prove to a non-Navajo audience that he is Navajo, in the same way that Christian characters in fiction prove their Christianity by quoting bible verses.

In The Wailing Wind (book 15, 2002), Bernadette Manuelito was introduced. She is just as traditional as Jim Chee; she's a fluent speaker of Diné bizaad, she knows the stories, her mother is a renowned weaver of rugs, but she's a layperson. She has never had formal training in the Ways as Chee has but she believes in them; they form the basis of how she approaches the world.

In her introductory book, she might as well be a robot — a superstitious robot. On facing a dead man in a car in an out of the way part, she is almost incapable of doing her job as a Navajo Police Officer because of her beliefs about death. As first written she was a huge step backwards for the series.

Before Bernadette Manuelito's introduction, Tony Hillerman left that level of superstition to the old folks he populated his books with. In nearly every book, especially in the first half of the series, if there is a murder, it's blamed on either skinwalkers or chindis (witchcraft or grudge ghosts) — and yet not once has the series actually taken a paranormal bent.

Anne's additions to the series take a different approach. Gone are the over the top displays of tradition and devotion. Gone as well are the superstitions. The potential motives behind the bombing are more grounded in real world, human issues: family strife, poverty, living conditions, language barriers, prejudice, drug abuse, and so forth.

Five stars

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Road of Her Own: Women's Journeys in the West: 09/15/17

Road of Her Own: Women's Journeys in the West by Marlene Blessing

Road of Her Own: Women's Journeys in the West by Marlene Blessing is a collection of stories and essays by women about their experiences in the west. The road part of the title is there to catch the eye but really has little bearing on the body of the book.

Put another way, this is a collection of stories republished from a variety of sources. They share three things in common if you squint: they're by women, they're vaguely road trips, they take place in the western half of North America (specifically the United States and Canada).

For the purpose of my road narrative project, this book was a waste of time. There just wasn't enough meat here to take notes on. The essays I read were pithy and many of them bordered on the long versions of things you'd find in one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books.

Two stars

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Paper Girls, Volume 2: 09/14/17

Paper Girls, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan

Paper Girls, Volume 2 by Brian K. Vaughan opens in the present days (2016). The paper girls now like Samurai Jack need to get back to the past — if they can fix things in their future first.

There are two ways to do time travel stories. The first is to make it so the travelers can't visit themselves on the timeline. The other is the oft-repeated meeting of oneself as the timeline unravels.

Volume two takes the latter approach. The girls are picked up by an older Erin — an Erin who is my age and has experienced the last thirty years, including the recent election. Her recollection of events has no bearing on young Erin's version of things — the last memory they can agree on is the first few minutes of when Erin met up with the other paper girls.

The majority of this volume's action is set inside a shopping mall — one that has been shuttered for a decade. It serves as a dystopian marker for the paper girls, while bringing to mind another 1980s time travel story that has its second act inside a mall — Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure (1989).

There's also the on-going metaphor of Apple being the modern day fruit of knowledge. Modern day Erin can run the future version of the iPod or iPhone. The future seems to be under the control of Apple — an evil Apple — a sort of Big Brother Apple like the one they were claiming not to be with their ad introducing the first Macintosh.

Volume 3, which collects issues 11 through 15 came out in August.

Five stars

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Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti: 09/13/17

Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti by Bailey Cates

Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti by Bailey Cates is a collection of short stories about trans women finding love in various points in their journey of finding themselves.

Bewitched, Bothered, and Biscotti by Bailey Cates is the second of the Magical Bakery Mystery series. The cover is mostly blue with a cute ginger cat. The cover bears no relation to the book except for the scene depicting a place that could be a coffee shop. While cats are often portrayed as a witch's familiar, Katie Lightfoot has a dog named Mungo. I want to see Mungo on the cover.

Katie and Declan are picnicking at a historic and reputedly haunted estate when something catches her attention. She wanders in the direction of the bushes and finds the body of a man with a memorable tattoo. It turns out he was one of a exclusive and long standing group of New Orleans druids — a powerful and potentially dangerous set.

Of course the Druid thing puts Katie right back into a love triangle with Declan and Steve. I can't even begin to explain how much I hate this particular triangle. Steve is so manipulative and arrogant. He's abusive. He will gaslight her. He's such a "good ol' boy" I want to punch him in the face until he loses all his teeth.

Katie is told to be careful because the druids will be after her. She's given charms by nearly everyone to protect her. Thankfully all of them seem to because weird things are after her. Probably the best scene involving Katie's life being threatened involves cascading pumpkins. They are also a reminder that it's nearly Halloween.

The masculine magic vs feminine magic was played so strongly (and not as effectively as in Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett that it was abundantly clear early on that the Druids couldn't possibly be responsible for the deaths among their own. Nor would Katie be interesting or important enough to go after her. The solution instead was right under Katie's nose with a plot twist similar to that in Bookmarked for Death by Lorna Barrett [LINK].

Sometimes figuring out how a mystery is going to play out is fun. Sometimes it's just painful. This one was on the painful side. I'm hoping that it's just a rough start to a series as it's only the second book. I am planning to read the third book, Charms and Chocolate Chips. Then I'll decide if I'll continue with the series. There are currently seven books in the series, with Potions and Pastries being the most recent one.

Three stars

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A Safe Girl to Love: 09/12/17

A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett

A Safe Girl to Love by Casey Plett is a collection of short stories about trans women finding love in various points in their journey of finding themselves.

These stories are written in a variety of styles and are set in a variety of towns across the United States and Canada. My favorite pieces were the shorter ones — ones often written as lists of things to do.

There is one for example, early on in a woman's life where she is still trying to get comfortable enough to purchase clothing at the sort of boutique stores that sell the kinds of clothing she wants to wear. Along with the advice of buy skirts not dresses because they'll fit better on a still masculine body, there are also musings on the weirdness that are women's sizes.

There are other stories that are more focused on the mechanics of sex and the joy of finding someone who is aware of the situation and doesn't care.

And there are stories of parents and acquaintances reacting to the reality of the situation. Some are accepting. Some aren't. Some are ambivalent.

All in all it's a fairy quick read. I ended up working through the stories over the course of two evenings.

Three stars

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When Dimple Met Rishi: 09/11/17

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon is set in and around San Francisco State University during a summer web programming camp for college bound teens. It's told in alternating points of views between Dimple, who is from Fresno, and Rishi, who is from Atherton. Dimple is there to improve her web development skills and Rishi is there to meet and woo the bride his parents have picked for him (Dimple).

I have two main problems with this novel: the way the arrangement is introduced and the basic plot of the summer camp. As there isn't much more to this book besides those two points, they are two HUGE roadblocks to my enjoyment.

I knew going into this novel that it was about arranged marriages. Let me be upfront and say that the arrangement part of this plot isn't what I'm critiquing. Rather, it's the circumstances of that arrangement.

Dimple goes to the camp at SFSU believing she has been given the green light on the blessing of a well respected friend of the family. What she doesn't know is that her parents have secretly sent her information to another family to arrange the courtship and marriage of Dimple to their son Rishi. When he shows up at Starbucks and introduces himself as the man she's going to marry she reacts as any sensible person does, she tosses her drink in his faces and runs for the hills.

BUT...

From Rishi's point of view, we're told that his family and her family know each other. This wasn't done through a broker. The two families are long time friends.

So...

How is it that she has NEVER heard of him? I'm not expecting the two to be long time childhood friends, but she should at least recognize him. She should at least be aware that two families have talked about getting them together.

When I was teen and living at home, my parents (well, my dad mostly) toyed with this ridiculous notion that I would end up marrying the son of his best friend. There was no way in Hell this was going to happen because we had nothing in common and couldn't stand each other's company. We played nice in front of our parents but there was no way we would voluntarily spent time together.

Looking at other long time family friends from my childhood, even if I didn't personally meet every single child of my parents' friends, I was made aware of them. My parents talked about their friends and their friends' kids. If photographs were sent in holiday cards, they made sure to show them to me and my brother.

So I'm finding it hard to believe that Dimples parents managed to keep Rishi and his family a complete secrete all these years.

Problem two: summer camp. The setting for this whirlwind romance is a coding camp that Dimple has fought hard to attend, has done her homework on before hand, and is basically over prepared for. While we're given the impression that teams will be decided at the whim of people running the camp, Rishi, who has no business there other than to woo Dimple, has apparently rigged it so that she and he are teamed up. There is of course a rule that no teams can be realigned or reassigned — so she's stuck with him.

Rishi by this point in the book has already stalked her twice and been basically the most creepy person ever. I would think the hosts of this camp wouldn't want a lawsuit on their hands. But whatever — I guess it doesn't occur to Dimple to do that despite the rest of her character traits in the first couple chapters.

If we give the camp team selection a romantic comedy pass, there is still the problem of the predictability of the remainder of the plot. Dimple's Facebook BFF ends up being a rich, spoiled, racist twat even though she's delightful online. Real life experience seems to have shown that people are less on guard online than they are in person — so her shit personality should have already been abundantly clear.

Facebook BFF and camp roommate also seems to have colluded with a bunch of rich white male twats to get into a "good group" just like Rishi managed to get onto Dimple's team. Apparently everyone in this camp except for Dimple has control over who gets on what team and they are all conspiring to make her life a living hell.

Now in the real world of start ups and web development, there is the problem of corporate espionage. Companies are paranoid about protecting their assets — including their code, their prototypes, etc. To make this camp mimic the real world, the organizers should have housed their teammates together. What's to stop Facebook BFF/friendemy from spying on Dimple's project or vice versa?

Again — this set up is just for dramatic lols and it's a huge hinderance to plot and character development. Basically, but going for the easy, clichéd set up, the book paints itself into a boring plot. Seriously the plot stagnates from the point where Facebook BFF/friendemy and cohorts coerce Dimple and Rishi to go out to dinner at a place that sells million dollar mac n cheese (price, not taste).

Two stars

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 11): 09/11/17

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 31)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

With school starting, my youngest has caught the cold that is going around her school, and she's shared it with me. Boo.

I'm slowly reading The Wangs vs the World. Part of my problem is the editions' small typeface. I know I need to get my eyes checked and I'm certain I need reading glasses. That's next on my list of things to do after the house buying stuff is over and done with.

What I read:

I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid ; research
Outside In
Outside In by Jennifer Bradbury; library book
Bow Wow
Bow Wow by Spencer Quinn; library book
Latte Trouble
Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle; personal collection (audio)
   

What I'm reading:

Wangs vs the World
The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang; personal collection
Wrongside of the Paw
Wrong Side of the Paw by Laurie Cass; personal collection (ebook)
The Dragon Princess
The Dragon Princess by E.D. Baker; personal collection (audio)

Up Next:

Finding Audrey
Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella; personal collection
Carrying Albert Home
Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickman; library book
Hear the Wolves
Hear the Wolves by Victoria Scott library book

Other Posts

Reviews Posted

Comments  (34)


Nooks & Crannies: 09/10/17

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson

Nooks & Crannies by Jessica Lawson is a tween caper involving a haunted house, an eccentric countess, and six families vying for an inheritance. The protagonist in this adventure is Tabitha Crum, a child who is treated more like a servant than a member of the family, by her money hungry parents.

This book reads like someone pulled story elements from a grab bag containing pages from The Rescuers, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Peppermints in the Parlor. Then these elements were stitched together while watching Clue, Murder by Death and perhaps a marathon of Scooby Doo.

The most troublesome part of this book is how it's set in England but nothing feels particular English about the characters or the settings. It would be better set in a completely imaginary place with a similar but entirely fictional history.

Two stars

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This Is How It Always Is: 09/09/17

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is the story of a transgender child and per the afterword is inspired by the author's own experiences as a parent of a transgender child.

The novel opens with a mother in labor with her last child. She has all sons and desperately wants a daughter, whom she plans to name Poppy. When her child is born and is assigned male at birth she and her husband name them Claude.

Claude though pretty quickly turns out to be nothing like their other child. Their sons are boisterous, rude, and fascinated by disgusting things. Claude meanwhile like fairytales, excels at language and in my own mother's parlance, is an "old soul."

Claude also decides they want to be called Poppy, knowing full well that would have been their name had they been assigned female instead. Poppy's decision to change names and general appearance (growing out their hair and wearing dresses or feminine things even when wearing jeans and t-shirts) isn't as cut and dry as in other novels I've read where the child is transgender and the adults in their life either doesn't know or is transphobic.

Given the set up with the mother being so adamant that she wanted a daughter named Poppy, I would think that her acceptance of the name change would be nearly instantaneous. That she in her narration continues to call her child Claude for nearly two-thirds of the book seems odd.

Of course there are outside pressure — the school especially that expects a cut and dry transition from boy to girl or girl to boy. Non-binary or gender queer or anything else is something they've not written a policy for and therefore don't know how to support Poppy.

Just as George by Alex Gino uses Charlotte's Web as a metaphor for Melissa's transformation, This Is How It Always Is has an on-going fairytale about a princess that the father tells (and later sells to a publisher) to cover what Poppy and their family are going through.

This fairytale metaphor though gives the entire novel a detached and somewhat dreamy feel to it. Despite being inspired by actual people the story seems to lack an emotional attachment. The brothers are loud and crude to be in opposition to Poppy. The father, though a quiet, artsy person, never seems to stand up for Poppy with their siblings to make the point that he, their father, isn't like them — that boys don't have to be dirty and rowdy to be boys. The mother too doesn't seem to know what to do even though she's raised so many children and is well educated and is a doctor. And it's not just Poppy — she's detached from all her children.

The short version is, it's an odd book. It does cover the steps a family would go through to support their transgender child. But the family never really seems like the tightly knit group that would go through all the steps as they do.

Three stars

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Winnebago Graveyard #2: 09/08/17

Winnebago Graveyard #2 by Steve Niles

Winnebago Graveyard #2 by Steve Niles continues the misadventures of a family stuck in a menacing town after their Winnebago is stolen from a roadside carnival.

In my review of issue #1 I noted that: "Winnebago Graveyard sits at the intersection (or crossroads, if you will) of the road not taken and crossing the cornfields categories." I went on to say that wether this series is a road not taken or a crossing (escaping) the cornfield story would depend on the town's relationship to the carnival. If the carnival is a trap for outsiders, then it's a road not taken story, where as if the town is as much under the spell as the family is likely to be if caught, then it's a crossing (or escaping) the cornfield story.

Detail of the panel showing the hotel sign looming over the family as they realized they're trapped.

Issue 2 opens with the family being sent to the only hotel in the town. This hotel looms in the background as the mother complains: "Well it did happen and now we're stuck." The hotel is run by a woman who could be Mrs. Bates's twin, another instant clue that the hotel won't be a safe place, but is as the mother supposes, just another part of the trap that they are now in.

Detail of the panel showing introducing the woman who runs the hotel. She gives me a Mrs. Bates vibe.

Now as this is a short arc — only four issues — there's only so much that can be done in each issue. Just as if this were a classic four part Doctor Who, there's an expected plot progression: introduction of characters and introduction of the thing that is wrong; realization that things are really bad followed by lots of running and hiding; either getting caught and needing to escape, or finding safe haven with a group not somehow affected by the bad thing; fighting back and saving the day — or completely losing.

Issue 2 has a lot of running and hiding from the torch bearing cultists shown briefly in the start of Issue 1.

As this issue ends with the summoning of "Dark Spirit" it's looking more and more likely that Winnebago Graveyard is road not taken horror. Now if this were a Doctor Who, the story would be turned around in the last issue, revealing that most of the townsfolk were under the spell of the evil influence, and thus were just as trapped as the Doctor and Companions. As this comic, though, seems to be going for a straightforward horror feel, I'm guessing our family isn't long for the world.

Four stars

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Kleine Katze Chi #1: 09/07/17

Kleine Katze Chi #1  by Kanata Konami

Kleine Katze Chi #1 by Kanata Konami is the German translation of チーズスイートホーム 1. I originally read and reviewed the manga in English five years ago when the first version of the anime was first airing.

While I don't typically re-review books, there are some notable exceptions, when I feel a revisit of a book is warranted. Chi is one of those times for a mixture of nostalgia and the fun of reading a different translation.

Chi is a kitten who is separated from her family while Mama cat is taking her kittens outside. They go one way, Chi goes a different. She is found by a young family of three: a Mom, a Dad, and Yohei — a toddler boy who an equivalent age to Chi.

The joke for the title in Japanese is that "chi" is little kid Japanese "pee." Yohei who is struggling to potty train gets to learn (and teach) how to use the toilet along with the kitten who is learning how to use a litter box. In all the potty training / pan training mayhem, the kitten ends up learning to respond to the name "Chi."

As Chi and Yohei are both very young, much of the language in this manga is written in a little kid style — sloppy grammar, little kid slang for things, and near misses for words. It was fun to see how this played out in German — with Chi speaking a very straightforward German with no compound words, no split infinitives, no complexity of the sort of German an older, more advanced speaker would use. Yohei, meanwhile, also uses a simplified German but as he's actively trying to be a big boy, he experiments with bits and pieces of formal German speaking — like calling Chi, "fraulein Chi" after they have her sexed at the vet's.

Five stars

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Yours Truly: 09/06/17

Yours Truly  by Heather Vogel Frederick

Yours Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick is the second book in the middle grade Pumpkin Falls mystery series. It's Truly's birthday but the festivities have to be postponed because the maple syrup season has begun and the entire town needs to help with the tapping of the trees.

Tensions are running high in the town as they prepare for the maple syrup tourist season. First there's the harvest and the rendering — with forty gallons of sap being needed to make about a half gallon of syrup. Then there's the baking contest where locals put together their best maple syrup themed recipes. But this year — someone is sabotaging the lines and precious sap is being lost!

Like the first book, Absolutely Truly, this one has two mysteries: a modern day one and a historical one. The historical mystery relates to the first Truly (originally named Trudy) and her participation in the Underground Railroad. To round out this part of the story, there are numerous excerpts from Truly's diary.

The Lovejoy family history is a nice way to fill out this mystery as the present day mystery is rather straightforward. It won't take much for an observant reader to solve the mystery before either the Pumpkin Falls Private Eyes or the adults do. But it doesn't matter because Frederick populates her books with well-rounded characters and enough local color to make anyone want to visit Pumpkin Falls (even during the mud season).

Five stars

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Fifteen Dogs: 09/05/17

Fifteen Dogs  by André Alexis

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis won the Scotiabank Giller prize in 2015 and was the CBC Canada Reads book this year. It's another examination of the human condition from a canine point of view.

The set up is this: Apollo and Hermes are at a bar getting drunk and they get to talking smack. Out of their drunken banter, comes a half baked plan to see what will happen if dogs are given human sentience and language. They bestow these gifts (or curses) on fifteen dogs overnighting at a nearby veterinary hospital.

The remainder of the book is the outcome of the lives of these dogs. Some of them were strays. Some of them were beloved pets. Some were abandoned.

Dogs suddenly being able to talk and think like humans isn't a new or unique story idea. These types of stories range from all sorts of age groups and genres.

For instance, there's the yellow lab who accidentally ate alphabet soup and gained the ability to speak: Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh — which was the basis for a PBS children's series of the same name.

On the science fiction / thriller front, there's Plague Dogs by Richard. On the literary fiction front, there's the offbeat, I Thought You Were Dead: A Love Story by Pete Nelson. On the political / social commentary front, there's A Dog's Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov.

I ended up having the same problem with Nelson's novel as I did with Alexis's, in that I kept comparing these literary dogs to the much sillier and earnest Martha.

Two stars

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Shopaholic & Sister: 09/04/17

Shopaholic & Sister  by Sophie Kinsella

Shopaholic & Sister by Sophie Kinsella is the fourth novel out of the series but the fifth one I've read since I read it and Shopaholic & Baby out of order.

If Becky Brandon née Bloomwood is Pinkie Pie, then Jessica is Maud Pie. Becky is the bubbly, always thinking in six directions at once type of person. Her half sister is anything but; she's methodical, down to earth, and very much in love with rocks.

Maud and Pinkie Pie

As with Shopaholic & Baby, this book has two plot threads. First there is the on going relationship with Luke. Second, there is Becky trying to get to know her half sister.

In this book we get to see him completely calm — away from work. But that's temporary. He really is a businessman at heart and thrives on the on-going stress of campaigns, business deals, and difficult clients.

With Becky and Jessica the two seem complete opposites. Becky is bubbly and tends to talk before she thinks. She loves shopping. She loves the finer things. She has a very definite personal style which she has parlayed into a career as a personal shopper. Becky's love of haute couture comes from growing up the child of a working class family.

Jessica meanwhile is more like Suze and Tarquin. She grew up with money. She also grew up learning how to do things herself — how to build her own empire from the ground up. She is grounded in being thrifty, in making choices that have the smallest carbon footprint.

In Becky's relationships, the thing that's always missing is communication. Becky really needs to talk. She needs to get things off her chest before her imagination gets the best of her. For Luke it's always a matter of business. For Jessica it's a matter of getting her to open up about her passions.

Five stars

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Books on Books: 09/04/17

Books on Books

The Gathering Books blog mentioned that they are participating in the meta-reading theme for October. They asked for some recommendations and as a HUGE fan of meta-reading, I had to stop what I was doing and put together a list. Actually, I ended up with four lists, one for each age group: young children, picture books, middle grade, and adult. While these lists are mostly fiction, there are some non-fiction books included. If the book is from a mystery series that is book themed, I've only included the first book in the series to get you started.

Young children:

Picture books:

Middle Grade books

YA books

Adult books

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (September 04): 09/04/17

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? (August 31)
Hosted by Kathryn of Book Date.

Monday was back to school for my kids. It's been a week of getting into the school routine, but from a new place. We're learning how to work our old morning routine into the apartment.

New camera

Last Sunday was my birthday and my husband bought anew camera for me. It arrived in the mail on Thursday and I've been having fun learning how to use it. Every new model, Olympus moves the buttons around. It's takes a little while to customize it just the way I like it.

What I read:

Goldfish Boy
Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompsonk; library book
Short
Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan ; personal collection (audiobook)
Black Hammer Volume 1
Black Hammer Volume 1 by Jeff Lemire; library book
Under the Dragon's Tale
Under the Dragon's Tale by Maureen Jennings; library book
Ghostbusters 101 #5
Ghostbusters 101 #5 by Erik Burnham; personal collection
 

What I'm reading:

Wangs vs the World
The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang; personal collection
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
I'm Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid ; research
Outside In
Outside In by Jennifer Bradbury; library book

Up Next:

Bow Wow
Bow Wow by Spencer Quinn; library book
Wrongside of the Paw
Wrong Side of the Paw by Laurie Cass; personal collection (ebook)
Latte Trouble
Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle; personal collection (audio)

Other Posts

Reviews Posted

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No Place for Magic: 09/03/17

No Place for Magic by E.D. Baker

No Place for Magic by E.D. Baker is the fourth of the Frog Princess series. Now that Emma is the new Green Witch and the curse has been lifted, she and Eadric wish to be married. To do so, means, getting the permission from his family. And that means traveling to Montevista.

Montevista, it turns out, is anti-magic. We're talking Salem witch trial levels of anti-magic. And Emma, the most important and powerful witch of her kingdom is marching into the middle of it. It's Baker's chance to do an homage to Bewitched.

Along the way Emma notices some hinky things about anti-magic Montevista. There are dragons attacking who seem to be tracked with magic. Emma by this time is on speaking terms with the local dragons so she's desperate to keep them out of trouble. They seem as confused by these attacks as she is.

Things are even hinkier when Eadric's younger brother is kidnapped by the Troll Queen. I don't recall Eadric having a younger brother in the previous books but he does now, a significantly younger one (just like his cinematic counterpart in The Princess and the Frog (2009).

There's so much potential for story here but the pacing is off. Parts are too slow and other parts are rushed.

Three stars

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Winnebago Graveyard #1: 09/02/17

Winnebago Graveyard #1 by Steve Niles

Winnebago Graveyard #1 by Steve Niles is the start of a new comic that combines the road narrative with horror. It's set firmly in the road not travelled and crossing the cornfield categories, with the cornfield here being a very creepy carnival.

The set up is this: family on a road trip in a Winnebago pulls into the dirt parking lot of a carnival. This stop isn't on the itinerary but they've decided they need a break from all their electronics. To further the family bonding, they leave all their phones and other devices locked up in the RV while they go spend an afternoon in the carnival.

When they leave the Winnebago is gone and they are stranded. The once inviting rural town in the middle of nowhere now looks ominous, uninviting, and quite possibly dangerous. Their only hope is to follow to road into said town and hope they can find someone who can help.

Winnebago Graveyard sits at the intersection (or crossroads, if you will) of the road not taken and crossing the cornfields categories. At this early stage we don't know the town's relationship to the carnival. If the townsfolk are also under the spell of the carnival, it would be a road not taken story, like Kate Milford's Boneshaker or Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. If however, the town is in on it, then the carnival becomes more of a cornfield, or a barrier to keep people in. If that's the case, then the family will find themselves in an escape the cornfield road narrative.

Chart showing where this comic might be aligned in the road trip subgenres.

At this point in the four issue arc, there's not enough information to say. Issue two, was released July 19th.

Four stars

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August 2017 Reading Sources: 09/02/17

August reading sources

August was our first full month in our apartment meaning over 90% of our home library is in storage. With finances tied up in selling our old house and hopefully buying a new-to-us house soon, we are relying primarily on library books for our reading. Also with the time spent working on prepping the house for sale and with an end of the month road trip for the eclipse, my over all reading numbers were down.

ROOB for the last four years
5 = all new books, -4 = all to be reads. The goal is to be as close to -4 as possible.

With the reliance on library books and a few e-comics I purchased (I'm reading through both the Ghostbusters 101 sequence and The Winnebago Graveyard series), my ROOB (read our own book) metric ticked upwards to -2.72. It's still better than nearly every other August (save for 2013) since I've been tracking reading old books vs reviews (or research), library, or new books.

ROOB years

August's numbers were kept lower than they otherwise would have been because I also have gotten back into listening to audiobooks. Since I've been essentially stuck at home (one or the other of them), I've been using digital audiobooks to keep me entertained while I work on move related or other household chores. Five of the twenty-eight books (or 18%) of the books I read were audiobooks.

August's ROOB average is at -2.46, which is a small improvement from -2.42.

ROOB years

Looking at September, I suspect it will continue to be a mixture of library books, old audiobooks that I own, and newly purchased comics. I do have some research books on hand too. Our old place is set to close in the second week of this month. After that we begin the process of buying a new-to-us home.

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It's a Book: 09/01/17

It's a Book by Lane Smith

It's a Book by Lane Smith was first published when my youngest was four. It would have been the perfect book for her back then given her big vocabulary and her insistence on calling things by their proper names.

The book features a conversation between a reader and a personal electronics junky. The monkey just wants to read their book but is interrupted by a curious character who does not get how books work.

The book culminates with a punchline that makes it a fun book for children's librarians to use during story time. It comes up in discussion sometimes over it's ending with anyone wondering if the book has caused any trouble or garnered any complaints.

See it has a punchline that sounds rude but isn't. Because the character — the curious one — is literally a jackass.

Five stars

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August 2017 Reading Summary: 09/01/17

Reading report

Mid July we moved out of our home of thirteen years and into a tiny (and hopefully) temporary apartment. Ninety-seven percent of our home library is in storage, leaving our reading choices to those carefully selected books we brought with us, ebooks, digital audiobooks, and the library.

Mid August we finally got our house fixed up enough to put on the market. It was stressful — but anyone who has put a house on the market knows that. Like July, I spent most of the month devoted to the house — getting it fixed up, getting it staged, meeting with contractors, signing endless amounts of paperwork, and so forth.

Selling the house ate up most of my summer. The kids and I didn't go once to Don Castro to swim — though we did swim in the apartment pool. We didn't go bowling. We didn't go hiking. They did homework and I worked on the house or on setting up the apartment.

Then near the end of the month we jumped into my car and drove cross country to Wyoming to see the eclipse. Our trip out took about twenty hours — divided across two days: Reno the first day and Rock Springs the second day — meaning we drove through the entirety of Nevada and Utah in a single day. For the actual eclipse we got up early and drove into Casper which had the longest totality of anywhere in the eclipse's path. It was so worth getting up at 2 AM to see!

But between the house and road trip, I didn't get much reading done. Last year, I read thirty-four books in August. This August, I read 28 and most of those were either audiobooks or comic books. Over the summer, I realized I could buy comic books on my phone which saves me from either schlepping to the one comic book store in the area or waiting until the albums come out. I'm still planning on buying the albums but it's fun to stay current.

Back in 2009 when I first started tracking my reading and reviewing, I had a backlog of over four hundred titles I had read and wanted to review. Eight years later, I'm down to a backlog of only a couple months. As I'm basically current now in what I read and what I review, I've changed up how I schedule my reviews. I used to do it by topic. Now I am devoting a day each week to a particular type of review:

SaturdayBooks published this year
SundayOld books
MondayRecently read books
TuesdayCanadian books
WednesdayMystery books
ThursdayComics or graphic novels
FridayResearch (road trip books or essays)

Bar graph about reading

Bar graph about reviewing

Despite the lower number of books read, the reading was more focused, meaning I was able to mostly read diverse books. Roughly two thirds of the books I read were inclusive.

Review-wise, though, most of the books weren't diverse. August was my second big push to get through older reviews. I'm excited and nervous at the prospect of not having a backlog of reviews to rely on for times when I'm not reading as fast as I usually do. When that time comes, I'll have to re-think my "a book review a day" tag line.

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